WWC: Hollywood, Pranks and Booze: Millar Time at Wizard World

In his first American convention appearance in three years, Mark Millar was happy to make one big announcement this weekend at Wizard World Chicago: "Brain Michael Bendis is gay."

That sardonic quip set the tone for the lively session with the Scottish writer, who recently set off a "Civil War" at Marvel Comics. A known prankster, Millar jokingly alleged he spends more time devising practical jokes than he does writing. He quipped, "This is why I can only do 20 books a year." Asked to recall his best prank, he shared what he considers his "classic" prank on fellow creator Brian Michael Bendis:

Knowing Bendis is a great fan of playwright David Mamet, Millar researched specific details of Mamet's career and body of work to ensure his prank's authenticity. He set up a false e-mail account and sent a series of e-mails to Bendis, claiming to be Mamet and extolling Bendis as not only his favorite comics writer, but the best writer at Marvel in 40 years. Later, Millar as Mamet expressed a desire to collaborate with Bendis on a Spider-Man project. Bendis replied, essentially giving Millar-Mamet carte blanche approval to develop any story ideas. Millar-Mamet responded with what he called "the shittiest thing I could come up with." Some of his pitches included a Spider-Man bored with policing Tribeca and deciding to take off into space as an explorer. Millar-Mamet also pitched a Spider-caveman. After a lag in e-mail response, Millar finally received a 3-word reply from Bendis: "Fuck you, Millar."

Millar is riding high on the wild success of "Civil War," the epic Marvel crossover that has set the standard for the next phase of Marvel storytelling. The inspiration to write the best selling comic in over a decade came from Millar's love of "Crisis on Infinite Earths," the now-classic 1985 DC Comics event that changed the nature of the DC Universe for years to come. The self-proclaimed "DC geek" approached the "Civil War" concept in such a way as to alter the landscape of the Marvel Universe in a similar way that "Crisis" had changed DC's 22 years ago. Rather than simply gathering a group of Marvel's best heroes and powerful villains, Millar's plan was to shake the foundations of Marvel's core characters.

In setting up the first major shock of "Civil War," the public unmasking of a hero, even Millar was surprised that Marvel would allow their flagship character, Spider-Man, to go public, claiming he expected it would be a character such as Iron Fist.

Millar spoke enthusiastically of the big-budget 2008 film adaptation of his Top Cow project "Wanted." He recently visited the Prague set of the film, starring Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, and up-and-coming actor James McAvoy ("The Last King of Scotland"). When asked for his thoughts on the film, Millar stated he was very impressed with the 25-minute rough edit he saw. The largest change from book to screen will be the removal of costumes, with the characters sporting more "film-friendly" outfits, a concession approved by Millar, who insisted that on camera, superhero outfits "look goofy unless worn by an iconic character such as Spider-Man or Superman." Another modification in adapting "Wanted" for a mainstream audience was the removal of Fuckwit, the Down's Syndrome-affected superhero. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, Millar expressed hope that a sequel possibility would open the door to allow mentally handicapped characters into the fray.

Affecting his best American accent, Millar recounted a brief phone conversation with star Angelina Jolie upon her acceptance of the role of the Fox in the film. Thinking the call was a prank, Millar quickly hung up on the actress. While visiting the set of "Wanted," Millar was able to spend time with the Academy Award-winning actress, claiming to have sunbathed with the star, even sharing sunbathing oil, an assertion met with skepticism by the Chicago audience. In his time on the set, Millar was invited to participate as an extra in a scene set on a train, with Jolie driving past in a jeep with machine guns blazing.

When asked if the film would be aiming for a PG-13 rating, Millar responded, "Oh my God, no!" triggering raucous cheers from the audience. With extreme violence and an opening scene involving anal sex, Millar noted the picture is definitely aiming for an R rating. Millar is personally pleased the rating will allow for a better translation of his work, although he noted that it will be tough to screen the film for his mother-in-law and other family members. "I just can't wait to see it myself!"

When queried about further plans to become involved in the movie industry, Millar observed that there are some in the comics industry who view writing comics as a way to break into Hollywood, but he plans to stay firmly rooted in the world of comic writing, declaring, "I love working in comics." In fact, he defined writing for a Superman title as his "holy grail," even going so far as to say that he and his "Ultimates" collaborator Bryan Hitch have compiled some 500 pages of notes on what they would plan to do with a Superman book should that opportunity present itself.

Millar brought forth high praise for Hitch, commending his eye for detail, and supporting the perhaps unhurried pace Hitch sometimes uses to make sure his artwork is perfect. Millar voiced the opinion that he would rather scrap a book than work with a bad artist who can draw more quickly.

In looking toward other creators, Millar cited Robert Kirkman's "The Walking Dead" as being his current favorite title. To demonstrate his commitment to the series, he recounted a story in which he bought a copy of the fifth collected trade paperback in the series and brought it to a funeral to read during the services, much to the alarm of his wife and brother.   Outside of the comics industry, Millar cited Larry David ("Seinfeld," "Curb Your Enthusiasm") as his favorite writer, and is impressed with David's ability to analyze plot structures in tying stories together. "I learned how to plot watching 'Seinfeld,'" Millar said of David's influence on his own writing style.

Leaving the audience laughing and cheering, Millar invited conventioneers to join him at his hotel bar at 9:00pm, an invitation met with more applause. He then took time to mingle with the crowd, graciously accepting a bottle from a Chicago-based distillery that provides absinthe-like liquor. His infectious enthusiasm for his profession was evident as Millar continued to speak with fans as the crowd dwindled and fans dispersed back into the exhibition floor.


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